Yes, it's a blog about reading.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A fun vacation read

I usually like to read books that relate to the area I am visiting when on vacation (hence the Dickens choice for London), but since my new book about France (Suite Francais, by Irene Demirovsky) is a hardcover, I chose to read Sarah Vowell's Assasination Vacation. I loved The Partly Cloudy Patriot and have been looking forward to this earlier work. It was great. I love her funny, philosophical approach to history and contemporary events. In this book, she visits sites that are relevant to three presidential assasinations (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley). She has a wonderful way of meandering through the facts in a not strictly chronological way with many asides that are always informative and entertaining. She visits little known monuments, such as the McKinley plaque in Buffalo, where the President was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz during the opening of the Pan-American Exposition in September 1901 (this was also touched on in The Proud Tower and The Devil in the White City). While talking about Garfield, she also sheds light on other obscure Presidents, such as Chester Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes. Garfield strikes me as a sane, gentle, bookish fellow and his death a sad travesty (shot by a crazy ex-cult --interesting aside about the Oneida cult that became Corningware -- member who felt that he should be appointed Ambassador to France).

The facts about Lincoln, of course, are the most well-known, but Vowell brings a reverence for Lincoln as well as a lot of minor side-topics to bear. The story of Dr. Mudd, accused of conspiracy for sheltering Booth after his evil deed and the long debate over his guilt or innocence as well as his imprisonment in the Dry Tortugas was interesting. Also, Booth's anticipation that he would be treated as a hero and the dismay of his famous actor brother, Edwin Booth, who gave up his career out of shame.

All in all, this book is like sitting down to a delectable spread of tapas, in the end, it is as satisfying as a full meal.


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